“It’s hard for me to explain what happened”.
N exhales heavily and scratches behind her ear, invisible behind the delicate swaddling of her chador. “It was the last time we tried before we finally arrive here. We did it without my father.”
She stops and screws her thin lips together awkwardly. Without growing up with a Hollywood TV nanny like most of us her expression of grief is less dramatic and more poetic than most. Her face breaks unevenly and without faltering, refreshingly honest.
Her emotions are entirely unlearned. She cries the way she’s seen her mother cry and inevitably how her grandmother cried too.
“He left the refugee community after our second try at getting here. The men who tried to get us all into the boats tried hard to make sure it would work, you trust them, you have no choice.”
N speaks simply yet profoundly about the people smugglers portrayed in Australia as both heroes for and pariahs on the vulnerable.
She’s right. Asylum seekers do have no choice, and it’s difficult being the eldest of seven in a fatherless family, devoid of status and home, adrift in Indonesia for ten years after a perilous journey from Afghanistan post 9/11.
N speaks of the frustrating limbo of forgetting the trials endured for a better life her family have been prevented from starting throughout their twelve year journey throughout the illegal and exceedingly obscure world of people smuggling and detention centres.
“He left after being there for so long. He did lots of things for us but he couldn’t stand the life we had to have. Travelling for so long and waiting in a detention centre for our life here. Who could do that happily? Why should we have to? He left and started life again somewhere else. Or he’s not alive anymore.”
N doesn’t know how many people were in her boat, or exactly where they set off from, or why she still hoped this time, after two failed attempts, it would work.
“It was warm and windy. We all got seasick and there was nowhere to go to the bathroom or anything to eat unless we brought it with us. It lasted longer than the first few times though. Everyone was so sick and smelly but hopeful. Maybe this time we would be a story that was successful.”
After some experience of rough weather off the coast of Australia, the passengers were showing symptoms of exposure and other illnesses. Two days later they were woken by man who was running the boat- Australia was in sight. A thump came a few hours later and N was pushed up into the starry night sky and over the side of the beaten vessel by her mother.
She fell. And fell.
A nauseating feeling of déjà vu enveloped her with the icy shock of the dark pacific ocean and she began clawing desperately at the side of the carbuncled boat, her water-laden chador pulling her down and forcing her under.
Three times! She thought as the agony of desperation overtook her. Three times this happens! And no one to help us here!
Under the water she went again, the fabric of her garments a cement web of suffocating inertia against her desperately gasping face, constricting her fiercely pedaling legs with a vice-like grip.
Then, with a shock that pulsed through her body, one of those desperately stomping feet was in agony. She had struck the spear-like top of a rock.
A rock! An Australian rock!
A rock from a country that could support her weight, maybe even support the weight of her whole family if it understood what she’d endured just to feel the excruciating pleasure of a solid Australian rock on her uncovered near-frozen foot.
N balanced herself on this strange place as she heard her 13 year old sister P splash into the water next to her and then, almost immediately, her twin R beside her too, both gasping and clutching her chador for support.
Soft lights from the boat flash on and illuminate the children being tossed from both sides of the boat into the shallow water of the Australian shoreline.
Such a short, dark fall she thought.
A free fall of thirteen years without stones beneath my feet not rattling or burning or constantly changing.
A short, dark fall ended it.
She smiles at the gently winking lights on the coastline ahead.
Because something has happened.
Because people are kind.